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What To Do When You Run Out Of Road

December 20, 2013

I took H to the train museum.  It’s in a train station on the outskirts of Islamabad and comprises a room of tools and artefacts (which is a lovely word that I don’t use often enough) from the days of the Raj.  There is also a large steam train parked on the platform. It’s on rails but is clearly going nowhere.


It will still get you there quicker than the East Coast Mainline on a bank holiday

If you ask nicely (and pay the princely sum of whatever the chap decides to charge you – the rule seemed to be 50 Rupees more than I offered), they will unlock the various carriages and let you have a nosey inside.  There is a ladder to climb up to get into each one and there are no lights in the carriages, which make it simultaneously very dangerous and much fun.  The carriages contain such joys as:


Beds!  Observe the 19th Century ceiling fan in, um, the ceiling.  


Toilet Facilities – again, you don’t get many of these for your pound on First Capital Connect, and if you do, they’re probably in about the same condition…


A little study, complete with writing desk. Man in natty tank top is an optional extra. 

I had a lovely time, but H was concerned.  When we’d been in to see the station master (still using the same board from when the railway began. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, carry on regardless) he’d mentioned that there was a train coming.  We saw him at 1450.  The train was due at 1530.


Here’s a man who loves his job.  Alternatively he just wants to get on with his job and not have annoying tourists poking cameras at him all day.  Who knows?  

And so began the question: “When’s the train coming?”.  Despite my best efforts of pointing out the big hand and the little hand and explaining that we’d have to wait until the big hand reached the 6 and even then, this being Pakistan, we might have to wait a little longer, it didn’t stop the little voice.  We walked past the pump with barely a sideways glance.


Despite our guide’s enthusiastic demonstration

And even the post van, which I thought was very cool, was hardly acknowledged.  No, all he wanted was to see the train.


And so we waited.  And waited.  And eventually a little light appeared in the distance.  At first we weren’t sure if it was coming towards us or not, but it gradually got larger, and larger and finally turned into….




I believe the bars on the windows are for people to hang on to.  At least, I hope so.

It was the highlight of the day.  We even got to wave at some of the passengers.  They didn’t wave back. I think they’re more used to children throwing stones at the carriages.

After the whirlwind of excitement of seeing a real live train, the only thing to do was to head home.  On the way back to the carpark I managed a surreptitious photo (I feel very awkward about taking photos of people’s homes) of this:


When I was in the Upper 2s (3rd grade for my esteemed American readers) we went on a school trip to some form of funny museum in which they had an exhibition on the Indian subcontinent.  All I remember from what was clearly a highly educational day was:

1. That we all bought strange bamboo recorder-type instruments with which we tortured the poor bus driver on the way back to school; and

2. That we were told that some poor people would dry cow pats on the sides of their houses to use for fuel (to a universal chorus of “Yuks” and “Urgghs” and general disgust at the thought of how that would be and how it must have been years and years ago because no one would do that these days – they’d just turn on the electric heaters).

All around the train station there were herds of water buffalo.  As we drove away, we could see the women crouched round in a circle breaking the pats up to use for fuel.  The building in the photo is better made than many – often they have large gaps where bricks have fallen out, and virtually no one, bar the very rich, has glass in their windows.

And so began the journey home.

On the way back to the car my phone beeped with an update from our security section.  We get these all the time and they are to let us know what’s going on in the city.  About twice a week there are large scale protests which cause roads to be closed.   This was one of those times, and the road that they were just about to close was the one I needed to get home.

No fear, I thought. I’d seen from the map (which is mostly very useful, but occasionally, as I was to find out, slightly more of a work of fiction than would be ideal) that the road out of the train museum connected with a main arterial road which skirts around the south of the city and was, for that moment, free from marauding journalists or discombobulated lawyers or whoever it was that was exercising their democratic rights at that time.  So we set off.

The first little while was fine, although I was slightly perturbed by the fact that the road builders had replaced the white line down the middle of the road (which doesn’t even tend to exist on 4 (or however many you want to fit across) lane highways here) with a stone wall.  It started off as being only a couple of inches high, so I straddled it for a while as that seemed preferable to driving through the groups of people, chickens and shop fronts which encroached freely onto the road.  Then it started to get bigger, so I plumped for driving VERY slowly on the left hand side of the road.  That turned out to be a good choice as before much longer the wall was about a foot high.

The road itself was fairly decent, covered with tarmac and not too pot-holey   However before long I came to a queue of traffic.  I started to drive around it and then saw that my side of the road was roped off and the queue was waiting to use what was now a single lane with a sharp cliff on one side.  I got back into the queue.  In front of me was a bus and I was happy about that, as if he could get through, I could too.  That was good.

Eventually our side started to move and we rumbled forwards over an unmade road.  On our left, about a foot higher than our bit of track, was a glistening sheet of tarmac – beautifully smooth and completely clear of traffic. I was very tempted to see if I could get up onto it but managed to suppress my impatience and stayed tucked behind the bus. I was glad I did. After a mile or so we came across the road builders.  They were doing absolutely everything by hand.   I think the tarmac had just been laid.

We carried on and then, after a few more minutes, we ran out of road.  It just went.  There was no tarmac, there was almost no road, just a series of potholes which became craters and then just rocks.  The bus stopped, which was unhelpful of it.

I could see the motorway I was heading for in the distance.  There was no way I was going to turn round and try to navigate back through the single lane with the precipitous drop, so I pointed the car in roughly the right direction and went forwards across the surface of the moon, slowly.  A little voice came from the back  stating “It’s very bumpy, Mummy”.  He had a point.

Finally we got within sight of the motorway but there was no obvious sliproad leading onto it.  After the drive I’d had so far I didn’t feel like letting this pose a problem.  I drove across the mud and rocks and got to the edge of the motorway and then, with a final surge of the accelerator, we got up the final 6 inches and onto the road.  (We may have caused some behind us to brake. We may not.  I made a conscious decision not to look in my rearview mirror.)  I could have kissed the tarmac.  Do you know just how smooth a proper road is?  It’s a marvel.

And so onto Lessons Learned From Our Big Trip Out:

1. Electricity and gas piped to one’s house are wonderful, wonderful things;

2. Tarmacked roads are also wonderful, wonderful things;

3. To be grateful that H has not yet learnt the recorder;

4. That no matter how interesting or fascinating exhibits in a museum are, nothing will ever compete with a real, live train; and

5. When you run out of road, just keep going.  You may, eventually, get to another.

  1. It’s true – the things you think they’ll care about they have no interest in. And all the rave about are the bits you could have probably seen for free.

    As for the cow poo – how interesting. I recently saw a show hosted by Kevin McCloud (of BBC’s Grand Designs) where he built a shed for himself that was completely off the grid. It was interesting coz they built an outhouse in such a way that the “waste” could be separated and then used for fuel. It’s amazing how much fuel you can get from human waste and it makes me think how much we actually do waste if that makes any sense. As I speak (write?), I am at work. But at home we’ve been without power since Saturday night. Not a big deal in summer but it’s -15 out. So agreed – gas and electricity at home is a wonderful wonderful thing!


  2. Anonymous permalink

    Radhanath Swami, English name Richard Slavin, is a criminal and a murderer who helped murder someone back in 1986. He was also involved in the covering up of heinous crimes like child molestation, illegal drug distribution, money laundering, and so on. This man is NOT a saint. He is an evil person and a complete monster.


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